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Trowbridge man's memories of icon Mandela
5:00pm Thursday 19th December 2013 in Trowbridge
The weekend funeral of Nelson Mandela brought back memories for former Bath and England player Steve Ojomoh of his meetings with the former South African President.
After losing to France in the third place play-off at the 1995 World Cup in South Africa, Mr Ojomoh, 43, who now lives in Trowbridge and is head coach at the town’s rugby club, stayed to watch the final between the hosts and New Zealand.
Before the match, Mr Mandela took to the Ellis Park pitch in Johannesburg, wearing Springboks captain Francois Pienaar’s shirt. The poignant moment is often cited as helping to reduce racial tensions in newly independent South Africa – who went on to win the World Cup that day.
Mr Ojomoh said: “When he came out in the Springboks jersey me and Phil de Glanville (fellow Bath and England player) looked at each other and we just thought ‘wow’.
“At the time, you don’t fully appreciate being in the moment but it is one I’ll never forget.”
Mr Ojomoh first met Mr Mandela, affectionately known as Madiba, at Newlands Stadium, Cape Town in 1994, when England were the first touring side to visit South Africa following his election as President.
He said: “There was a great presence and stature to him. It was a very special moment for everyone to be part of and amazing to have a brief audience with the great man.
“Before going over there, we didn’t realise the extent of the problems; when we went out during the tour we had to go around with bodyguards and that was something we weren’t used to. I’ve been to South Africa since and it has changed massively, thanks to Nelson Mandela.”
Mr Ojomoh, who also met Mr Mandela at an event at South Africa House in London, added: “He gave a great 95 years, uniting a nation and inspiring so many. Oddly, the morning of his death, I was thinking about him and hoping he’d see the year out.
“When I heard he’d died I was very sad and then after a few hours I just wanted to celebrate his life and learn more about the things he’d done.”
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